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Why didn’t ADL poll anti-Semitic stereotypes held by Israelis?

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Noah Feldman

Noah Feldman

The ADL report on global anti-Semitism is getting a lot of negative reviews. A central question is, Why didn’t the Anti-Defamation League survey Israelis on their anti-Semitic beliefs when it was traveling the world to survey people in 102 countries, representing 4 billion people in the world? As David Samel asked here yesterday.

Here are two other criticisms from the web.

Jim Lobe at Lobelog has explored the data on which the survey is based, and comes up with some insights about people’s attitudes about Israel. He begins by listing questions asked of respondents:

1) Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Israel?…
3) Do actions taken by the State of Israel influence your opinions about Jews, or do they not influence your opinions about Jews? …
4) Would you say that the actions Israel takes generally give you a better opinion of Jews or a worse opinion of Jews? This question was asked only of those who in question 3 above said the actions of Israel influence their opinions of Jews…

On question 3 — whether actions by the State of Israel influenced respondents’ opinions about Jews — 16% said “major influence,” 19% “minor,” 42% said none; and 23% volunteered that they “didn’t know.”

And on question 4, for the 35% who said Israel’s actions did influence their opinions about Jews, 25% said they had a better opinion, but 57% said their opinion of Jews was worsened by Israel’s action, while another 17% volunteered that they didn’t know how they were influenced.

Now, those are not insignificant numbers. According to the ADL, the 53,000-plus respondents represent nearly 4.2 billion people, which means the 35% who said that Israel’s actions influenced their opinions of Jews represent nearly 1.5 billion people. Fifty-seven percent of those 1.5 billion adults translates to 855 million people who, if we extrapolate from the survey’s methodology, are willing to tell pollsters outright that Israel’s actions make them see Jews in a more negative light; which is to say, make them anti-Jewish or more anti-Jewish than they already were…

it seems safe to say that Israel’s actions — at least as reported by those same mass media — do not help the cause of eliminating anti-Semitism around the world, and especially in its own neighborhood where, in fact, Israeli actions have been felt most directly.

In the same reasonable spirit of suggesting that some attitudes may be based on some Jews’ behavior, Noah Feldman at Bloomberg notes the extent to which the negative stereotypes of Jews that the ADL asked about touch on widely-held attitudes about Jews.

As the pollster makes a continuing series of anti-Semitic statements, the addressee may well have the experience of feeling increasingly reminded of whatever latent anti-Semitic beliefs he may have…

Those negative stereotypes include such statements as “Jews have too much power in the business world,” “Jews have too much power in international financial markets,” “Jews have too much control over global affairs,” “Jews think they are better than other people,” “Jews have too much control over the United States government,” and “Jews have too much control over the global media.”

At the Forward Jay Michaelson also says that he failed the test.

Why is anyone taking the Anti-Defamation League’s survey on global anti-Semitism seriously?

He states flatly that Jews have too much control over the U.S. government and that we have disproportionate influence over business and media matters, but doesn’t see that as negative.

How about too much “control over the United States government”? Here, the answer must be yes, proportionally speaking. How many U.N. resolutions does the U.S. think it can veto before, at some point, this canard becomes impossible to resist

While Feldman says that the alleged anti-Semitic belief that Jews feel more loyalty to Israel than to the country they live in might be actual fact.

If I believed that some or even most Jews would take the side of Israel in the case of a serious conflict with their own countries, would that belief help qualify me as an anti-Semite? Don’t get me wrong, it would be bad for Jews in many countries if such polls were performed. But thinking you know what they might say isn’t bias.

So Feldman and Michaelson are saying that Jews can hold alleged anti-Semitic stereotypes, which surely runs against the ADL’s perception of the problem. Feldman raises the point that Samel and Marsha Cohen have: Why didn’t the ADL survey Israelis? Wouldn’t many Jews share these beliefs?

Then there is a final, telling omission: Why didn’t the ADL poll in Israel? They did poll in the West Bank and Gaza, where they got the highest anti-Jewish result they found anywhere. Is it because no one really wants to hear how the world’s only majority Jewish population would have done on the quiz?

This isn’t a criticism, but Fareed Zakaria picked the poll up:

And what did he do with it?

He mentioned the report and then asked viewers what country in the Mideast was the least anti semitic.
1. Palestinian terr
2. Jordan
3. Egypt
4. Iran
Answer is Iran.

Marsha Cohen also noted that Iran is the least anti-Semitic country in the Middle East, according to the survey.

Philip Weiss

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14 Responses

  1. Citizen on May 20, 2014, 2:07 pm

    Everybody I know, both Jews and non-Jews, would be interested to know that the ADL is itself, anti-Semitic, as our they.

  2. W.Jones on May 20, 2014, 3:27 pm

    Hello, Phil. Thanks for your writing on this worthwhile topic.

  3. W.Jones on May 20, 2014, 3:55 pm

    I don’t see how survey participants can say that Jews have bad politics or have good politics, have political power or don’t have political power without falling into an unfair generalization about people.

    The only things that you can generalize about people would have to be almost inherent, like saying that it’s “probably true” that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists etc. each to at least some degree feel that they are better than other groups because they perceive that their moral and philosophical system is better. (The “Bad” answer for Q. Four)

    Or that as a general rule, it’s “probably true” that people hate other groups, rightly or wrongly, because they hate their targets’ behavior, customs, actions, ways, etc. (“Bad” answer for Q. Nine)

  4. LeaNder on May 20, 2014, 4:54 pm

    Hmm, thanks a lot to Jim Lobe. Seems to be the first survey/poll firm, at least it feels, that somehow convinced the ADL to add a layer of depth to its stereotype questions. The deeper layers are indeed interesting.

  5. Donald on May 20, 2014, 5:03 pm

    And not just anti-semitic stereotypes. Do a serious poll on anti-Arab or anti-Muslim or anti-Palestinian attitudes among Israelis and Zionists, both Christian and Jewish.
    I’m a little tired of the idea that only one type of bigotry matters on this subject. Anyone who follows the subject knows the pro-Israeli side is no stranger to bigotry.

    Or let Ali Abunimah’s group do that poll. I’m sure the NYT would do a story on the results. (Sarcasm, of course.)

  6. David Doppler on May 20, 2014, 5:38 pm

    I find it offensive that the test presumes the pollee forms opinions about people based on their religious/demographic group. Where is the answer, I consider it prejudiced to try to generalize various traits which vary widely from individual to individual across large groups based on skin color, religion or ethnic grouping?

    • W.Jones on May 20, 2014, 6:36 pm


      Very many people would have chosen that answer across the board- Asians, Middle Easterners, Russians, etc. In case you have traveled much, you would know that it’s a common refrain among people of all nationalities that you can’t generalize others.

      Basically, anti-Semitism would have gone down to minimal levels had that answer “you can’t generalize” been included. The highest group, Palestinians would have been at maybe 15% anti-semitism, if you could tally “Noes” together with “Don’t generalize”. If you add in a new category that is so obviously objective, a major portion of respondents will choose it.

      If a Palestinian rights organization is interested in refuting the study, they could just run the same study, but this time with the extra option you proposed and they would find that very many Palestinians would prefer not to generalize.

      In fact, I assume many commentors on this blog have spoken with many Palestinians and can confirm that they would agree with the idea of avoiding generalizing about people. Another proof of this is that if you read Pal. websites or news in English, they would rarely say things like “The Jews ____,” but rather use “Israeli _____”. It’s not the way they typically talk, and in their speech they make the distinction and avoid generalizations, so you can expect that they would more often do so in a survey when given the clear option.

    • Stephen Shenfield on May 20, 2014, 6:54 pm

      Yes, it is a fundamental principle of unbiased survey design to offer respondents a broad range of alternative answers and to do so in a way that avoids suggesting that the interviewer and/or survey organizer prefers one answer to another. A common formula is: “Some people think A, some people think B, some people think C, etc.” — presenting A, B, and C in a way that implies they are equally plausible and equally worthy of respect.

      The ADL survey attempts nothing of the kind. It does the diametrical opposite, encouraging respondents to choose answers that will then be used to label them anti-Semites. Like a police sting operation. The respondent has to be quite savvy to avoid coming out an “anti-Semite.” It’s remarkable that so many manage to pass the test.

  7. Clif Brown on May 20, 2014, 6:50 pm

    Let’s say there is a famous attack-dog training school in a town. Night and day, residents hear the dogs growling and snarling. Occasionally one gets free and bites a citizen. Go to any fence bordering the school and you’ll get a dog trying to get at your throat but for the fence. The school is accomplishing its mission.

    A pollster arrives in town asking how people feel about dogs, then reports in a survey of the country on the attitude of people toward dogs that this particular area shows real hatred of dogs, but doesn’t put any notes about the dog school or the behavior of the dogs from the school.

    This is precisely the situation with the ADL survey on the results from Gaza and the West Bank. When people act badly toward others while proudly proclaiming that they are the members of a distinct group, it is not bigoted opinion that is being expressed, but rational reporting. Jews can behave badly, like any other group, and in Israel with regard to the Palestinians, they do!

  8. Stephen Shenfield on May 20, 2014, 7:00 pm

    Regarding Iran as the least anti-Semitic country in the region. I believe it is because Iran still has a Jewish community, loyal to Iran and with a respected place in Iranian society. Egypt no longer has a Jewish community. So when you ask an Iranian about “Jews” he or she will first think of the local Jews and respond positively despite negative feelings about Israel. When you ask an Egyptian he or she will naturally first think of Israel and probably respond negatively.

    • Woody Tanaka on May 21, 2014, 8:05 pm

      The fact that you have to speculate on the “whys” in those situations demonstrates the uselessness of this survey.

  9. bilal a on May 20, 2014, 7:03 pm

    It seems that Lobe is saying that the actions of ethno- religious institutions , both political and community based, influence human beings attitudes towards those groups (in general). But I do not see where that implies a specific racial prejudice against all members of that group, which it seems, in Jewish terms, to be the very definition of antisemitism.

    –unless antisemitism is defined as opposition to the policies of the Jewish state, or of elite Jewish community organizations (obviously not broadly representative of all their community members). This would mean you could lose your job and livelihood for opposition to an interest group’s policies, although you retain your civil rights ostensibly: What kind of society is that Lobe should ask, A. Sullivan answers , partially, while purging the PC is retained as a business right in principle:

    “As I said last night, of course Mozilla has the right to purge a CEO because of his incorrect political views. Of course Eich was not stripped of his First Amendment rights. I’d fight till my last breath for Mozilla to retain that right. What I’m concerned with is the substantive reason for purging him. When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.”

    Yes, we are finished as a liberal society, and what interest groups brought us here, not through votes (democratically), but by subversion and corruption, backed to the hilt by a police state ?

    No, its not the Hasidim in Brooklyn.

    • Stephen Shenfield on May 21, 2014, 8:36 am

      “It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason.”

      Sullivan would be less staggered (suffer less cognitive dissonance) if his perception of the “persecuted minority” were shaped by exposure to a more balanced account of their history — one that does not focus solely on its persecution by the majority, but also recalls that at certain times and places they were allied to the persecutors of other groups (e.g. allied to Poles in the persecution of Ukrainians) and that their dominant (rabbinical) caste consistently persecuted dissidents within Judaism (minorities within the minority), from the Karaites to Spinoza. If at certain times they did not persecute anyone, that was simply because they were too weak to do so. With a few post-Enlightenment exceptions, they were against their own persecution, not against persecution in general.

  10. Citizen on May 21, 2014, 4:15 am

    Now, can the ADL do a poll of Jews regarding the probability of non-Jews to hate and harm Jews if given a reasonable chance to do so?

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